Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump

Oh, That Maggie Haberman

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Remember the 2016 WikiLeaks dump of John Podesta emails? Here is an excerpt from one of them. The author of this email is Nick Merrill, traveling press secretary for Hillary Clinton.

Placing a Story

As discussed on our call, we are all in agreement that the time is right place a story with a friendly journalist in the coming days that positions us a little more transparently while achieving the above goals.

Who:

For something like this, especially in the absence of us teasing things out to others, we feel that it’s important to go with what is safe and what has worked in the past, and to a publication that will reach industry people for recruitment purposes.

We have has a very good relationship with Maggie Haberman of Politico over the last year. We have had her tee up stories for us before and have never been disappointed. While we should have a larger conversation in the near future about a broader strategy for reengaging the beat press that covers HRC, for this we think we can achieve our objective and do the most shaping by going to Maggie.

So there is the evidence.

Is the Evidence Accurate?

Please notice that I did not say credible. I would be interested if I were seeing any discussion where Merrill produced evidence that this mail was fabricated, or Haberman produced evidence rebutting the claim that she was reliably teeing up stories for the Clinton campaign. I would still be interested in seeing such challenges to the evidence.

But I am not seeing that.

Or Can We Be Distracted?

Instead, I have been watching a small PR campaign to defend Haberman over the course of the past year and a half. Perhaps the high point, if you will, of the effort was the episode of CNN’s Reliable Sources on 3 Sept 2017, in which Brian Stelter hosted a little father-daughter outing for Clyde and Maggie Haberman. Awww.

Evidently Stelter and his colleague, Dylan Bylers, got into Haberman’s doghouse in May 2016 for arguing over the narrative of the Trump campaign. Maybe this was a make-good? I have a day job, so I can’t stay current on what the cool kids in journalism are up to.

Another Target of Donald Trump

On 21 Apr 2018, Donald Trump issued this tweet:

The New York Times and a third rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will “flip.” They use…
[source: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/987679848284999680?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw]

Here is the piece co-written by Haberman that triggered this outburst. We know that Trump swings wild; this show has been going on for over two years now. It’s part of his “plain everyday folks” shtick, along with the bad grammar and misspellings. He’s convinced that his people love him for it, and nobody is going to tell him otherwise. He’s going to run this play until someone provides undisputable proof that it doesn’t work anymore.

I’m actually disappointed that he didn’t say, “The failing New York Times“, like he usually does when he tweets. He must be having an off day.

I had an accounting teacher who had started businesses. He said that starting a business was like hunting rabbits. You don’t aim at a rabbit, you just point the shotgun and shoot until you hit a rabbit. This is what Trump’s tweets remind me of. Point the shotgun and blast away.

On Reliable Sources today, Stelter saddled up his high horse in defense of Haberman, providing an almost point-by-point rebuttal of Trump’s rundown of Haberman. Countering Trump’s claim that Haberman is “a third rate reporter”, Stelter cited the Pulitzer Prize awarded to her. He showed this image of Haberman and Trump together in the Oval Office in rebuttal to his “who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with” statement.

But the part I am interested in is the claim of her being a flunky for Hillary Clinton, and Stelter left that unaddressed.

When discussing this matter with people I know, someone else called Haberman a hack. I can see why Trump takes the approach that he does; if you disagree with someone, you apparently have to establish that they have no redeeming qualities at all. I can’t explain why that is necessary; it just seems to be something that some people do. I can see why, when Trump tweets, he just loads up the shotgun and blasts away. It seems to find favor with other people, though not with me.

The Issue at Hand

I don’t want to impugn Haberman’s journalistic achievements. For my purposes, I am prepared to take other people’s word that she is an excellent investigator, a great co-worker and a loving mom.

What I want to discuss is whether or not she was known to the Hillary Clinton campaign as a reliable stooge who could be used to tee up news stories to advance their agenda.

In this article, Jack Shafer took the line that, “the Podesta emails give us all a strong sense of how the news sausage is made.” If that is true, there is value in knowing that. But it doesn’t excuse or justify the behavior. Shafer wrote:

I don’t engage in that sort of ass-kissery, but if ass-kissery fills his notebook and produces good copy, I’m willing to suspend judgment.

But now we have a big uproar over news bias and whether journalists can be trusted. If a journalist is in the tank for a presidential candidate, how can that journalist be trusted as an objective source? So there is more to the job than filling a notebook.

The New York Times has launched an ad campaign centered on the idea of the truth. If their reporter is selecting stories to benefit a presidential candidate, are we getting all the truth that is fit to print? Or are we getting a selected subset of truth that favors a particular viewpoint?

Maggie Haberman has some ‘splaining to do. So do other journalists who behave in a similar manner to her. They have to be accountable if we are ever going to come together as a nation, have one version of the truth and trust the media again.

 

 

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Written by srojak

April 22, 2018 at 6:03 pm

Follow the Trump Money

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At an early age, I learned that control comes from the sources of financing. Donald Trump has had six corporation bankruptcies (note that Trump himself has never personally filed for bankruptcy), yet he retains a business empire and, unlike many other who enter government service, has refused to put his business interests at arms’ length while serving as President. From where does he obtain his financing?

Donald Trump definitely qualifies as someone who was born on third base and tells everyone he hit a triple. He not only had his father’s wealth to draw on, but his father’s relationships with lenders. His record in business is checkered, to say the least. He has a long record of disputing his bills to suppliers; even if the suppliers were delivering substandard products and services, as the Trump attorneys allege, it would suggest a problem in the selection process within the Trump organization. A less charitable — but more believable — interpretation would be that he uses his lawyers to strong-arm suppliers out of what he owes them. Now, thanks to Stormy Daniels and her lawyer Michael Avenatti, we have further insight into how Trump uses lawyers and courts as weapons against people who don’t have his resources to fight back.

Others have done the investigation for how Trump’s presidential campaign was financed. The Center for Responsive Politics has provided this summary of funding for efforts both to support and to oppose the election of Donald Trump.

The more interesting story is where his business financing is coming from. This is especially true given both his continued direct involvement in his business interests while in the White House, and his proven record of inability to distinguish his person from his office. This last is one of the most menacing aspects of his behavior in office, as it would set politics back four hundred years.

Who would lend money to an entrepreneur with six business bankruptcies under his belt? In June 2017, Francine McKenna reported that Trump has still been able been able to obtain substantial loans without facing penalizing interest premiums. Her article suggests that many lenders are supplying credit to Trump’s business, but only names Deutsche Bank and Ladder Capital, the latter of which is a real estate investment trust (REIT). In December 2017, Wendy Siegelman did some further investigation into these two organizations. Siegelman observed:

The various overlapping connections among these companies and developers is likely representative of common intersections in the finance and real-estate world. However, given the significant leverage Ladder Capital and Deutsche Bank have as holders of hundreds of millions of dollars of Trump debt, it’s important to bring these business connections and potential conflicts of interest to light.

The relationship with Deutsche Bank may present some problems. Trump has already fallen out with one arm of the bank, only to cozy up to another. For its part, Deutsche Bank has its own murky issues. In 2016, Federal regulators went after it to the tune of $14 billion for securities fraud during the 2008 mortgage crisis; the final settlement was a $7.2 billion penalty, split between fines and community service. In 2017, the bank paid $41 million to settle claims by the Federal Reserve that Deutsche Bank failed to maintain adequate controls against money laundering.

Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) got on the trail of Deutsche Bank in late 2017, demanding that the Justice Department get moving on a investigation of the $10 million money-laundering operation that the bank is alleged to have organized. This may be the true source of Trump’s recent Twitter outbursts against Waters. Yes, Waters has her own issues, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Trump has a long history of seeking business in Russia, going back before the fall of the Soviet Union. He has actively pursued business ventures in Russia. He has working relationships with Russian oligarchs. Many of these relationships are tended by son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is in way over his head. Michael Wolff, in his book Fire and Fury, quoted Steve Bannon predicting that Robert Muller would be coming after Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr., and Paul Manafort. Per Wolff, Bannon made the observation that Robert Mueller chose Andrew Weissmann, who has a reputation flipping witnesses to build cases against mobsters and white-collar criminals, as a top aide. Mueller has by now already brought charges against Manafort.

Deustche Bank could also be fertile ground for Weissman to find candidate canaries. Martin Sheil wrote this report in which he went through the various smells emanating from the bank’s closet. This two-part report is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the meat of the matter. He explained the mechanics of how the money laundering technique worked; the Russians call this action “konvert”, as in to convert subterranean assets into legitimate assets. Sheil also cited a prosecution conducted by Weissmann and Preet Bharara against an important Deutsche Bank client in 2016. Yes, that is the same Preet Bharara whom Donald Trump fired as U.S. attorney in early 2017.

Sheil also specifically identified the Mercer family, funders of Breitbart News, as deeply involved with questionable bank activities. Patriarch Robert Mercer ran a hedge fund, Renaissance Technology (RenTec), that received favored trading relationships from the bank, to the extent that the IRS has challenged them. A risk management executive whose area of responsibility included the bank’s relationship with RenTec committed suicide in January 2014.  Mercer, for his part, has elsewhere been on record for claiming that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was “a major mistake.” We may not have heard the last about the Mercer family.

If, reading this, you conclude that there is nothing but innuendo here, consider this: Donald Trump ran his entire campaign on innuendo. He didn’t really mock a reporter for his disability, right? And what was that about Megyn Kelly having “blood coming out of her wherever“, if not innuendo he could walk back from? So I don’t want to hear the complaints. Live by the innuendo, die by the innuendo.

The point is that there is that there is a large potential to mine here. Robert Mueller has already subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank. As Christopher Brennan wrote in the Daily News, money laundering requires the prosecutor to prove both that the original funds are illegal and the people involved knew that they were illegal. The latter requires more than hard records of transfers; the prosecutor needs witnesses and testimony. That is why Weissmann is there.

The question Rosemary Fanelli asked in Forbes is critical: do the Russians hold and control the debt of Donald Trump’s businesses? “Why was Trump able to borrow additional funds even after he defaulted on his prior loans? Does this mean the President is compromised and beholden to a foreign government?” Russians understand capitalism well enough to know that, when you have people by the financing, their hearts and minds will follow.

I found all these links in less than a day, sitting alone on my computer in Texas. Robert Mueller has lawyers, subpoena power and a no-limit special prosecutor credit card. What do you think he’s doing? Why do you think his investigation is taking so long?

I predict that, if the Democrats win the House this November, Trump will have Mueller fired before the end of the year. Trump has to know that a Democrat-controlled House will rain impeachment motions into the hopper, anyway. Trump will figure, “What have I got to lose?”

 

 

 

No King in Israel

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In the current month of The Atlantic, Michael Gerson has written about the conflicted relationship between many evangelical Christians and President Donald Trump. Gerson has included a partial history of the political challenges evangelicals have faced in America over the past 150 years. He’s an evangelical himself, and I do not dispute his direct experience. I like context, and appreciate the history. But it is incomplete in several respects, and I am taking up the task of filling it out.

The Book of Judges has many instances of Israel being led by people whom most people would not have chosen. Ehud was a murderer. Deborah was a woman living at a time and place where women were not considered worthy wielders of power. Gideon was the runt of the family. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute, exiled from his father’s house. The people always visualize their leader as a great king, who will drive their enemies before them, but God has other ideas. The ultimate example is Jesus himself, who, instead of leading the people to victory over and freedom from the occupying Romans, died on the cross.

The Third Great Awakening

Tom Wolfe wrote that the 1970s were seeing the Third Great Awakening, but he was off by one. The actual Third Great Awakening started shortly after the Civil War. It had mostly sputtered out by 1900.

In many respects, the period was full of solutions looking for problems. The Civil War had brought about the bloody end of legalized slavery. What great achievement would be left to the successor generation? For some, the call was to convert the rest of the world to the person’s accepted form of Christianity. There was a great burst of missionary activity, both within the US and around the world. The 1842 Treaty of Nanking, which ended the Second Opium War, opened China to missionaries. After the Civil War, American missionaries joined their British brethren in China. Henry W. Luce was an important American missionary in China; he was the father of the Henry Luce who started Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated magazines.

Another important movement was the Social Gospel movement, which Gerson also mentions. The Social Gospel declared that the focus of salvation must be at the community level, rather than the individual level. I have previously addressed the problems of the Social Gospel in a previous essay.

Prohibition

The third important outgrowth of the time was Prohibition. Although it was not achieved until 1919 when the 18th Amendment was ratified, Prohibition was an important goal that was taken up by many of the faithful. Prohibition would become their greatest short-term success and hang a millstone around their necks for decades.

Evangelicals went all-in on Prohibition. As late as 1933, C. Oscar Johnson, president of the Northern Baptist Convention, told FDR:

Baptists are back of you 96.8 percent. We cannot go the other 3.2 percent.

The 3.2 percent was an allusion to 3.2% beer that was already available in many states.

Evangelicals thus made themselves outcast for a generation, gaining a reputation as national prigs, indifferent to the failure of a well-intentioned national crusade that had only served to benefit violent crime syndicates. David Frum would later write:

For all that, a Christian who in 1955 applied an “In Case of Rapture This Car Will Be Unoccupied” bumper sticker to his car would attract puzzled looks from his neighbors.
How We Got Here, p. 156.

The majority of the GI generation was cold toward evangelicals, who were politically marginalized in America in the 1950s.

Fundamentalism

Gerson also mentions fundamentalism. This arose from a series of challenges posed by modern society to orthodox belief, including evolution and biblical scholarship.

The immediate source of fundamentalist doctrine was a series of documents published between 1910 and 1915, titled The Fundamentals. The core beliefs that fundamentalists identified to distinguish themselves were:

  1. The inerrancy of the Bible;
  2. The literal truth of the biblical accounts;
  3. The virgin birth of Christ;
  4. The bodily resurrection and physical return of Christ;
  5. The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross.

The publication of The Fundamentals started the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy in American Protestantism. In 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick launched a counterattack with his sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?“.

At the same time, there was the controversy over evolution, which Gerson discusses. Secular, sophisticated America considers the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial to have been the decisive milestone that, once and for all, made the opponents of evolution look ridiculous. But this is also a tenet of faith; evangelicals do not share it. Writing in 1963, Richard Hofstadter reported with some degree of evident mortification:

A few years ago, when the Scopes trial was dramatized in Inherit the Wind, the play seemed on Broadway more like a quaint period piece than a stirring call for freedom of thought. But when the road company took the play to a small town in Montana, a member of the audience rose and shouted “Amen!” at one of the speeches of the character representing Bryan.
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, p. 129.

By 1940, the Protestant churches we generally identify as “mainline” went modernist, and the evangelicals predominantly took up fundamentalism. The Baptists actually cease to be considered “mainline” to the extent they support fundamentalism.

The Remnant

There is a constant tension in Christianity between beliefs that assert salvation is open to all and those that maintain only a remnant of the people can be saved. After World War II, evangelicals took the remnant position and retreated into their own communities, where they could be true to their faith as they understood it.

However, the forces of secular modernism followed them. Let the evangelicals speak for themselves on this:

The 1960s ushered in another set of rapid cultural and political changes. Local controversies over textbooks and sex education in public schools, the tax-exempt status of religious schools, and gay rights raised concerns. Activists motivated by their religious beliefs began grassroots efforts to promote their causes locally, and their efforts eventually captured national attention.
— Amy Black, “Evangelicals and Politics: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Headed” [https://www.nae.net/evangelicals-and-politics/]

Challenged by the twin attack vectors of public policy and television, it was becoming harder for evangelicals to maintain their own values in their own communities. By 1980, many evangelicals felt like they were colonists in their own nation, dictated to by faraway people who do not share their values and seek to impose their own norms upon the evangelicals. If only out of self-defense, evangelicals had to mobilize politically.

The Abusive Boyfriend

So evangelicals get involved in politics. As I outlined in this article, they found themselves in the Republican party, in coalition with libertarians, right-corporatists and Republican “wets” who want everyone to get along. What generally happens is that the donors get the policies they want and the rest of us get a lot of sunshine blown at us.

Consider the issue of gay marriage. Evangelicals detest it, because they believe it to be contrary to scripture. Libertarians think it’s a great idea, and why don’t we legalize polygamy while we’re at it? Corporate types need this as an issue like they need holes in their heads; gay people have money to spend that is just as green as anyone else’s, and the corporate people are not anxious to alienate that market. So what happens is that elected officials generally make inconsequential noises to keep the various coalition members interested, making sure that nothing meaningful ever really happens.

I quoted Amy Sullivan in the referenced essay, but her observations are worth repeating:

Like an abusive boyfriend, Republicans keep moderate evangelicals in the coalition by alternating between painting their options as bleak and wooing them with sweet talk. You can’t leave me-where are you going to go? To them? They think you’re stupid, they hate religion. Besides, you know I love you-I’m a compassionate conservative. The tactic works as long as evangelicals don’t call the GOP’s bluff and as long as Democrats are viewed as hostile to religion.
“Why Evangelicals Are Bolting the GOP”  [http://www.beliefnet.com/News/Politics/2006/03/Why-Evangelicals-Are-Bolting-The-GOP.aspx]

Republicans were correct in their belief that most of the evangelicals were not going to go over to the Democrats, but they never dreamed that a Democrat would come over to them.

Enter the Serpent

Donald Trump promised to be like no other politician, and he has definitely delivered on that. Be careful what you ask for — you just might get it.

Throughout the 2016 campaign, evangelical leaders were rather clear on their criteria. They were looking for a President, not a youth pastor. They wanted someone who would get in the political arena and fight for what they wanted.

Trump has been very busy appointing federal judges. Given the scope judges currently have to take an activist role in laying down black-letter law, there is a lot for evangelicals to like.

Also consider how willing Trump is to take the political initiative. Look at his State of the Union speech. No other Republican since Reagan has been willing to take the fight to the opposition like that.

I can understand why evangelicals might look at Trump as their last, best hope. They certainly would not be alone in that regard. There is no Republican on the horizon who has demonstrated any readiness to seize the favorable terrain on messaging.

Note that I did not say, “take the high ground,” because where Trump is involved, that would be laughable. That is the problem facing all Trump supporters, particularly those who want an intact reputation after the Trump era ends.

It is remarkable to hear religious leaders defend profanity, ridicule, and cruelty as hallmarks of authenticity and dismiss decency as a dead language. Whatever Trump’s policy legacy ends up being, his presidency has been a disaster in the realm of norms.
— Michael Gerson, “The Last Temptation”

Gerson documents how the evangelicals are doing it again. Just like with Prohibition, they are going all-in for Trump. It is not enough for them to like what Trump is doing for them; they feel this need to like him. They have to like, or at least excuse, everything he does. By doing so, they are prostituting themselves.

Solzhenitsyn wrote about the message Soviet culture was constantly drumming into their heads: “The result is what counts.” But he saw through it:

But that is a lie! Here we have been breaking our backs for years at All-Union hard labor. Here in slow annual spirals we have been climbing up to an understanding of life—and from this height it can all be seen so clearly: It is not the result that counts! It is not the result — but the spirit! Not what — but how. Not what has been attained — but at what price.
The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. II, p. 609.

Spiritual leaders are supposed to know this. They will pay a high price for ignoring this truth.

Written by srojak

March 12, 2018 at 5:58 pm

The Bad Family Business

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I have some experience with badly run family businesses, both direct and through the stories of people I have known. My mother did not want to work for a large company when I was a teenager, so she went to work for small, owner-managed companies. As I grew up and got real-world experience, I was able to reflect upon how some of her employers qualified as bad family businesses. I can recognize some patterns. I am in a position to make a few generalizations about the bad family business.

Many privately-held small businesses feature some interesting owner behaviors. The owner often does not want to become the next GE; he just wants to be in business, set his own hours and have the business landscape his house. He has no plans to take the company public; he wants to retain control of the company, as his position confers status, power and perquisites. Thus, the behaviors of the firm you study in economics are not the behaviors of this firm, not because the owner is irrational, but because his primary goals are not market expansion or profit maximization.

The owner reasons that, without him, there would be no business, which is usually true. Therefore, in the reasoning of many owners, it logically follows that he is at liberty to impose any policies that please him, or none at all. After all, who signs your paycheck? He may decide he doesn’t have to tolerate disagreement or indulge in wasteful or unnecessary practices such as progressive discipline. If he wanted to put up with that stuff, he could work in a corporation and not have to worry about making payroll. The day he’s sick of looking at you, you can be gone. Don’t count on getting warnings like you would in a large corporation.

The bad small business does not distribute ownership of work. Micromanagement is common. If the owner thinks sentences cannot end in prepositions, no correspondence had better go out the door with a preposition on the end of a sentence. Never mind that his letters look like they were scrawled in crayon; he’s the boss, so he gets to do that. If you, his employee, do not do what he wants the way he visualizes you ought to do it, you may lose his trust forever. This will not end well for you. There is a right way, a wrong way and the boss’s way; guess which two don’t count.

The bad family business overlays a badly managed business with a governance structure heavily dependent upon members of the owner’s family. Of course, this leads to nepotism, but that is not the half of it. The family culture becomes the corporate culture. The interpersonal pathologies of the family move into the company, bag and baggage. The way the other family members deal with the owner — or don’t, as the case may be — becomes the norm for the organization. Any kind of conflict that the family can’t resolve becomes a kind of conflict the company can’t resolve. If you can’t relate to the family the way his family members relate to one another, you are not going to fit in.

Periodically, the owner of the bad family business will respond to some problem by bringing in a manager from outside. This manager will have credentials and experience that the owner believes he needs. The manager will start making changes. He will begin to have conflicts with the owner’s family members who participate in the business. He will believe that, because he was brought in to fix a problem, that he has the political clout to prevail over the family members in a conflict. Usually, the manager will be dead wrong. He will go into the owner’s office for a showdown, and come out unemployed.

It is easy to understand how these managers go wrong. They allow themselves to believe that, because the big boss complains about something, that his top priority is to get that something fixed at any cost. But when the cost reveals itself as family members losing influence, the big boss recoils. Blood is thicker than water.

The kids may not know how to build a sales force. They may not know the difference between debits and credits. They may not know all sorts of business stuff. But they know how to push Daddy’s buttons. They’re really good at that, having practiced all their lives.

On 20 January, 2017, the Executive branch of the US Government was taken over by a bad family business. It was a hostile takeover. Nobody wants to hear how things used to be done. Have you not heard? The people who did things the way they used to be done are losers. There is a new President and a new set of norms.

Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are family. Steve Bannon found out what happens when you clash with the kids. He won a few rounds, such as with the Paris Climate Accord, but ultimately he was cut off at the knees. Now, it looks like John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, is on the road to ruin.

Sources tell the news network that Kelly believes Trump is blurring the lines between first daughter and senior adviser to the president.
Kelly has reportedly said privately that the first daughter is “playing government,” and referred to her child tax credit as “a pet project.”
— Julia Manchester, The Hill, 27 Feb [http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/375746-kelly-irked-by-ivankas-trip-to-olympics-report]

In badly run family businesses, kids get to have pet projects. You, who are outside the family circle, disparage them at your peril.

Even better: Jared Kushner received a downgrade to his security clearance, from top secret to secret [http://www.businessinsider.com/jared-kushner-bad-day-security-clearance-manipulation-2018-2].

Jarvanka, as the two are commonly known, are reported to be preparing for a “death match” with Kelly [https://www.aol.com/article/news/2018/02/28/trumps-family-is-reportedly-furious-with-john-kelly-and-the-sides-may-enter-a-death-match/23373149/]. I have seen this movie before. It does not end well for Kelly.

The employer generally gets the employees he deserves.
— J. Paul Getty

So does a President.

Written by srojak

February 28, 2018 at 6:43 pm

On the Other Hand, There’s a Fist

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(With apologies to Jona Lewie, whose album by this name was part of the 1978 Be Stiff release.)

I watched the State of the Union speech last night. Donald Trump had a respectable outing. Given his track record, it’s only a matter of time before he squanders it with an ill-advised tweet. I think the over-under is about 36 hours.

However, he also demonstrated his vision for the Republican Party. Reading the speech carefully, you can understand how he won the Republican nomination over what has been described as “the GOP’s deepest White House field in a generation.

Michael Goodwin understands this. Writing in the New York Post yesterday, he claims “Donald Trump is teaching Republicans how to fight.

Yes, those responsible for writing this address deserve credit. However, so does Trump. Just like I discussed with Napoleon, the advisers and staff can advise and plan, but someone in an executive role has to sit at the table and act with his own chips. Donald Trump had to have the will to pursue this line, or the speech would have ended in the wastepaper basket.

Laughing Tonight

Last night on the post-game — er, post-speech wrap-up (have you noticed how political coverage and sports coverage have converged?), CNN’s Jake Tapper was critical of Trump for having offended Democrats (the horror!):

What you saw tonight was President Trump, I think, with one hand reaching out his hand to Democrats, and with the other hand holding up a fist. And this is almost the conundrum of Donald Trump. In addition to more Republican positions, such as tax cuts, talking about strong borders, etc., there is in his Trump Republicanism — nationalism, populism, whatever you want to call it — room for Democrats to work with him. He talked about changing trade deals. He talked about lowering the cost of prescription drugs, spending money on infrastructure, paid family leave, prison reform, path to citizenship for dreamers. There is that there. But by the same token, I think President Trump doesn’t quite necessarily understand just how offensive many Democrats in that chamber are going to find some of the things he proposed and some of the things he said, in terms of “there are Americans who are dreamers, too”, etc. … And this really is the mystery of Donald Trump.

Conundrum? Mystery? Are you serious?

The only mystery is why it took Donald Trump to address the Republicans’ inability to stand up for their beliefs and push back effectively. Goodwin summarized it perfectly: “After all, that’s what Republicans usually do — soften their tone and, badgered by a liberal Washington press corps, give in to big government ideas.” It is why the electorate was fed up, why they started talking about “cuckservatives“, why they were ready to take a chance on Donald Trump.

Republicans are supposed to decline the opportunity to offend Democrats? Let’s review:

You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
— Barack Obama, 2008

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
— Barack Obama, 2012

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.
— Hillary Clinton 2016

How does it feel to be flipped off? Democrats appear to believe they can say anything they want to, because they’re the caring people. They mean well, so any kind of sanctimonious attitude is to be given a pass.

[Oh, by the way, Government research did create the Internet, but there was no intention of creating it as a means by which the commercial sector could make money. The government exposed the Internet to the public, and people in commercial enterprises promptly figured out how to use it to make money. That’s what we do.]

Feeling Stupid

The Democrats and their sympathetic friends in the press are masters at showing the human costs of the problems they are trying to solve. I can’t fault them for that; that’s good messaging. Conservatives have typically been horrible at humanizing their ideas, preferring to present dry, abstract arguments that do not reach ordinary people effectively.

So when Trump presents the human costs of letting the MS-13 gang into this country, he is taking a page out of the Democratic playbook. Democrats don’t have a patent on this approach. Van Jones was lame when he accused Trump of a “smear” on dreamers:

What he said about those young people, he implied — and he did it deliberately — that Dreamers are gang members

This is the standard Democrat response: anything other than full rollover is morally unjustifiable. Jones inferred that Trump was saying that dreamers are gang members, but it was an unwarranted inference. You can make the inference, if you want to, but you can’t lay it at Trump’s doorstep. Trump specifically addressed the dreamers:

Here are the four pillars of our plan: The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age. That covers almost three times more people than the previous administration covered.

At the same time, Trump promoted his program for border security. Republicans have historically shied away from taking on these issues, whether because they didn’t know how or they were afraid they would get it wrong.

I would have liked to see some discussion of how our drug policies have enabled cartels, destabilized Mexico and created further incentives for Latin Americans to try to get into this country by any means possible. Nevertheless, I recognize that Trump is not going to follow that line. Instead, he is going to assert the need for border security and immigration restriction. And, to his credit, he effectively humanized the costs of not doing so.

I’ll Get by in Pittsburgh

Also in the Post, Salena Zito profiled the experience of one exurban Pittsburgh family watching the State of the Union address.

The children in the family noticed how Democrats on the floor sat through the speech in stony, unresponsive silence. Their fourteen-year-old daughter mused, “I just wonder if they thought this through past their politics, on many of these things all of America is applauding while they are sitting.”

These are people who do really want to take care of people who, they feel, deserve to be taken care of (I’m married to such a person). They don’t want to deport people who were brought here as children, and know no other country. But they also want laws enforced and borders secured.

When Democrats get righteous, when they start equating objections to their policies with racism, when they paint themselves as the caring people but are selective in their choices of people about whom to care, these people want Republicans to stand up, push back and, without apology, represent their concepts of equity and justice.

At this point, it looks like Donald Trump is the only person who has any idea how to do that.

Written by srojak

January 31, 2018 at 10:14 pm

Not Following the Logic

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The whole flap over pro football players kneeling during the national anthem has gone to a new level this week. Let’s sort it out.

Thumbing Your Nose

Kneeling during the national anthem is thumbing your nose at the entire country. It is a posture, an affectation. People who do it are poseurs. Where else could they go to make this kind of money doing what they do?

A football player does not get to tell us how to interpret his disrespect to the nation. Yes, I am talking to you, Richard Sherman. Kneeling during the national anthem is an act of disrespect to the entire country, including most of us who have no influence over how the criminal justice system treats black people in the inner city. Sherman is too intelligent not to know that.

Having a Complaint

Do black people have a complaint regarding the way they are treated by the criminal justice system? Hell, yes. Many people, not just black people, have a legitimate beef. The shenanigans in Ferguson, Missouri, for example, should offend every voter in this country. Municipalities and counties using law enforcement as a revenue center should offend every voter in this country.

The number of persons under correctional supervision (in prison, on probation or on parole) is appalling. According to a 2012 article by Adam Gopnik, there were more black men under correctional supervision at that time than there were in slavery in 1850; the total population of America that is under correctional supervision was over six million and growing. Contrary to popular lore, many of the people in prison are there for drug offenses or offenses against “public order”. Since black people are in prison at a disproportionately higher rate than Americans in general, yes, there is a genuine issue.

Taking Action

So what should a politically aware black football player do? How about taking some of that large NFL salary and putting it to work in community action? How about sponsoring court appeals on behalf of people who are being exploited by municipalities? Put your money where your mouth is.

White House Invitations

Back in 2011, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup and were invited to the White House. Goalie Tim Thomas declined the invitation. This writer maintained that Tim Thomas had no business declining the invitation.  I disagree. Similarly, Stephon Curry has every right to decline an invitation to the White House, given that he disagrees with the politics of the President.

The President is the Chief Executive, the Head of State and a high profile political figure. If a person disagrees vehemently with the political viewpoint of the President, by all means, do not accept his invitation to the White House.

Donald Trump’s Statements

Yes, Donald Trump made inflammatory and provocative statements on this subject. In other news, Lindy made it!

Really, who reasonably expected that, if this issue made it to Trump’s radar at all, he would make a nuanced, empathetic statement that would uphold respect for the nation as a whole while recognizing the real problems that people have encountered at the hands of governments? Did anyone really think Trump would call for national reflection on the issues that black athletes are raising while asserting that the nation deserves respect even if specific people in positions of authority have abused their power?

And there was every reason to expect Trump to weigh in on this issue. It is red meat to his base, many of whom a) love America and b) watch football. Trump has demonstrated that he has a laser focus on his core constituency, his political “investors”.

Trump’s statements are off the table for purposes of this discussion. There is nothing new here. The themes have not changed at all during the year. There really is not anything else to say.

Donald Trump is my President, in that he was duly elected through the recognized Electoral College process, just like Barack Obama was. Trump does not represent my viewpoint, and I would have wanted a more nuanced response. However, I recognize that Trump doesn’t do nuance. There is no point in flogging this horse anymore. He is what he is, and he is not going to change.

 

Written by srojak

September 24, 2017 at 11:22 pm

Did Donald Trump Obstruct Justice?

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We had a fun argument earlier this week on CNN between Jeffrey Toobin and Alan Dershowitz over whether or not Donald Trump obstructed justice by his conduct toward former FBI director James Comey. You can see it here (4:43).

Toobin claimed that Trump obstructed justice:

  • That the alleged request by Trump to Comey to lay off investigating former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn would have constituted obstruction of justice;
  • That Trump’s firing of Comey was obstruction of justice.

Dershowitz disagreed. He argued that Trump had the constitutional options to order Comey directly to cease investigating Flynn or even to grant Flynn an executive pardon. Dershowitz cited the example of Caspar Weinberger, who had served as Secretary of Defense for Ronald Reagan and who had been indicted by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh in 1992, accusing Weinberger of perjury and obstruction of justice during the Iran-Contra Affair. President George H. W. Bush pardoned Weinberger before these charges could be tried.

Dershowitz did not argue that Trump should get a free pass, just that his behavior was within his authority under the Constitution and did not constitute a crime. During the interview, Dershowitz said, “Impeachment is political. There is no judicial review of impeachment. You can impeach a president for jaywalking.”

I have to agree with Dershowitz, not just because of his reputation as a constitutional law scholar. Where does the FBI appear on the constitutional org chart? It is within the Justice Department, part of the Executive branch. The FBI is not an independent agency — does anybody really want it to be? (Anybody remember J. Edgar Hoover?)

As such, the FBI director serves at the pleasure of the president, who has the constitutional authority to dismiss the director for any reason, or no reason at all. This is not to say that there will be no political consequences for the president. Lyndon Johnson wanted to dismiss Hoover, but drew back from the political consequences [see Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest, p. 529]. Trump went ahead and fired Comey, and he can live with the political consequences of having done so.

Abuse of political power is a perfectly good reason to impeach a president. Congress also has less extreme options at its disposal, such as cutting funding for the president’s programs and either refusing or delaying consideration of the president’s legislative agenda.

Criminalizing political behavior you don’t like is a bad road to go down. It would represent another step toward being a banana republic with no bananas.

In this case, it is political spinelessness that causes people to seek some artificial objective standard — never mind that it is not applicable. If you don’t like the man’s politics, come out and say so. Seek political means to counteract them.

And if you’re in journalism, and you are concerned that you can’t object to someone’s politics and still appear unbiased, you’re absolutely right. You have to choose your course and live with the consequences no less than a politician has to.

Written by srojak

June 10, 2017 at 3:06 pm